Monday, November 30, 2009

You Want HOW Much For The BLT Sandwich?!?

In a recent conversation with my fellow foodie friend Kathy, she told me of a place on Merriman Road where they grill your food on stones. Thinking she meant Steak on a Stone, I told her that the restaurant she was describing was on "Restaurant Hill" in Montrose, just off of Rt. 18 and I-77. Her persistence that something had opened up in The Valley where they are grilling food on stones made me just curious enough to drive through the area today to see what she was talking about.

What I discovered was that both of us were right. Steak On A Stone is indeed on "Restaurant Hill," but a new joint called Double Deckers had opened up at 1662 Merriman Road, Akron, OH 44313 about four months ago. While they currently have no website, they can be reached at 330-864-3663.

From the street, I was presented with my first bit of confusion:

Was this Double Deckers Gourmet Sandwich Makers or Stonegrill Dining? Maybe this was one of those joint ventures where two kitchens share one restaurant space. Intrigued, I walked in to find out more. I was immediately greeted by this display case:

The interior was nice, white linens on the tables and nicely wrapped silverware, but other aspects were a tad off-putting, such as these illuminated wall photos:

Interesting artwork to say the least, but it felt a bit kitschy. Very common in restaurants that serve up buffets, these felt discordant to the rest of the environment.

After chatting with my server for a little bit, I began to unravel the mystery of this restaurant. It seems that the owners of Double Deckers decided to blend in a secondary dining concept that originally started with an Australian company, Stonegrill Dining. The concept was to sear the protein on the first side, flip it over and bring it straight to the customer to allow them to cook it to their liking. While I suppose this will appeal to a number of diners out there, to me it seems akin to offering "self-checkout" lines at the local supermarket. Why on earth would I pay someone else for the privilege of cooking my own dinner? Part of the reason I go to a restaurant where I have the ability to order my food cooked to a certain degree of doneness is that I can expect it to come out of the kitchen cooked correctly. If it's not done correctly, there is an implied expectation that the restaurant will do whatever it takes to fix the problem, including re-firing the dish. By allowing customers to finish the cooking process, is the restaurant no longer liable? What happens if the customer overcooks her steak, does the restaurant supply her with another free of charge?

Before even opening the menu, I knew that today's excursion was going to be a pricey one. Here was a shot of the table flier advertising some of the available wines:

$18 for a SINGLE glass of wine? Seriously? I've had very nice bottles of wine for the same amount, much less one glass. And of all the wines listed, not a single one could be found for under $12. Honestly, it didn't really matter that much as I was there for lunch and wasn't really interested in a glass of wine at that time of day. Were I to be there during dinner hours, I'd probably still opt to stick with something non-alcoholic. Today I just decided to have a glass of water instead. And while I normally wouldn't include a shot of a glass of water, Double Deckers did present an interesting twist:

In lieu of the usual lemon slice, a strawberry slice garnered my glass instead. It didn't really add the aromatic note that a lemon or cucumber slice would normally give to the water, but it was a nice way to finish the meal, a free mini-dessert, if you will.

When I finally opened up the menu, I was assaulted with nearly five pages of options. Here was a shot of each page:

The final page was loose and described the lava rock options for today:

It turns out that the conclusion I had come to earlier about this being a pricey meal were spot on. I immediately started searching the menu for something on the cheaper side. Quite a few of the sandwiches are a la carte and if you want a side, you pay extra. After a great deal of contemplation, I narrowed in on a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, and Hardboiled Egg sandwich for $10.50. This was one of the few sandwiches that came with a side; I choose the homemade carrot and mango slaw.

After about ten minutes or so, this was what I received from the kitchen:

This was a sizable sandwich and a healthy amount of slaw. Here was a shot of the side of the sandwich:

For $10.50, this had better deliver and be one hell of a BLT sandwich. Both the applewood smoked bacon and the hardboiled eggs were perfectly cooked and the eggs were sliced impossibly thin. The tomato had both a sweet and acidic edge. The bread was fresh and toasted just enough that it gave this mouth-filling sandwich enough integrity that it didn't disintegrate as I ate it.

While the sandwich comes with a side of the homemade Pink Costa Rica dressing, my server also brought me a small dish of (not homemade) mayonnaise.

I tried each half of the sandwich with a different topping. While both added a bit of moisture to the sandwich, neither really contributed anything to the overall flavor. I think that this was partly due to the fact that the saltiness of the bacon just masked the more delicate flavor of the sauces. The Pink Costa Rica was described to me as a cross between Ranch dressing and a tomato salsa. After tasting the dressing separately, I would tend to agree with that description.

After finishing my sandwich, I had to admit, it was a darn good sandwich. And very filling. I turned next to the carrot mango slaw:

This was an excellent interpretation of the common everyday cole slaw that seems to be offered at every other restaurant. My initial expectation was that the mango would be adding sweetness to the dish, but it turns out that they use mangoes that aren't ripe yet. Upon further reflection, this made sense to me for two reasons. First, getting ripe mangoes year round is an expensive proposition. Second, because the unripe mango is less sweet, the resulting slaw is much more balanced. Besides the obvious carrots, other flavors such as celery, scallions, and celery seed added to the overall flavor profile. The slaw dressing was creamy, sweet without being cloying, and had just a bit of acidity. I really did enjoy it as a side dish.

As I finished paying the check, I managed to grab one of the dinner menus that were available by the cash register. I wanted to look a little more closely at the Stonegrill Dining options when I had more time. Here was how the section on Stonegrill Dining was worded (including several mistakes):

"STONEGRILL Dining is famous worldwide for quality and exquisite flavor Originated in Australia now established in Europe, Asia, Canada and USA. In order to serve you the finest we process our own meats We use only Aged Prime Beef, which we have Aged for at least 30 days, for exceptional flavor and tenderness. Our steaks are hand cut and will vary in size and shapes. Seafood is selected on freshness and best availability from the world. Flown in overnight and processed for fabulous flavor."

Apparently they got the same person who does the Chinese to English menu translations to write the above paragraph. Ouch, my head hurts just trying to fill in the missing words and punctuation. I then decided to look at the starting points for the seafood to discover a very important point: not a single seafood selection was from the local area. Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Brazil, Mexico, Baja and South Africa were all starting points for this fairly expensive array of products that cost anywhere from $20 up to $55. If there was one thing that this menu espoused, it certainly wasn't how eco-friendly the ingredients were.

That being said, I am reluctant to outright damn them simply because of this fact. In all fairness, I enjoy eating sushi every now and again and I'm not foolish enough to think that the Yellowtail and Tuna I am enjoying while sitting in a Cleveland-based Japanese restaurant is coming from one of the Great Lakes. Hardly wanting to be labeled a hypocrite for telling you to avoid this restaurant because of their product sourcing policies, perhaps I'll just leave it at letting you, the gentle reader, make that decision for yourself after chewing on everything I've presented here today.

While I received a delicious and filling sandwich and side today at Double Deckers, my overall impression was that you could definitely get more value for your money someplace else. One final interesting note, the BLT with hardboiled egg that was $10.50 for lunch was listed on the dinner menu for $12.00. If price is an issue, it might be worth your while to check them out for lunch in order to save a bit on the check. However, if your lobster tails just HAVE to come from South Africa, then I would strongly suggest you give Double Deckers / Stonegrill Dining a chance.

Double Deckers & StoneGrill Dining on Urbanspoon


Mahala said...

After reading this review, I am so not tempted to visit this restaurant. I totally agree with you that stone cooking is a do-it-yourself dining project and I prefer to have the restaurant cook my steak for me. It's what I pay them for. I am shocked that the concept is still operating anywhere. IMHO it's just dumb. And $10.50 for a BLT...puhleeze!

Tino said...

@Mahala: What shocks me even more is how many people I've spoken to who are EXCITED to grill their own steak and pay for the privilege of doing so. Maybe it gives people the illusion of control ... who knows?

Kathy said...

I told you it was confusing! ha.

Tino said...

@Kathy: You were right about the fries at Louie's and you were right about this place, too. Honestly, I don't know why the owners wouldn't just write up a little blurb on the back of their menu explaining the concept. That I had to decipher it on my own doesn't bode well.

Anonymous said...

After looking at the lines out the door of other Valley restaurants tonight, we decided to try this place. The first thing I noted wheb I walked in was the disinfectant smell, the plastic flower, and the too bright lighting. Given those clues, I was a bit concerned that the food would be marginal. As we opened the menu, I was aghast at the prices...don't get me wrong, I have no problem paying well for great food. I had the black grouper on a stone and hubby had a prime rib sandwich (he was very put-off by the prices). My fish was good and relatively fresh, but like other responders, I would prefer someone else prepare it for me. Then there were the "vegetables for grilling." Not so much. By the time my fish was cooked through and I had room for the vegies on the stone, I ended up with fish and potatoes and then about 5-10 minutes later, semi-cooked vegies.

Whilethe wine selection was excellent, the food was slightly above average, the price and ambience will prevent us from visiting again. For excellent seafood, I will make the drive to Beachwood for McCormick and Schmicks.

jasherman1972 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shane.k330 said...

what it sounds like to me is you are a stuck up snooty person with a review that matters about as much as the new mystery orbitz gum flavor.
further more it is change and a new idea stemming away from the drab same ol same ol applebees,outback,longhorn,which im sure your "that" person always with a complaint so you can have your bill comp. or a free desert.
ANYWAY- if nothing else i hope the headache you recieve from my lack of proper spelling and puctuation leaves you with no appitite to ever venture out and try new things ever again try a new hobby like sniffing glue

Tino said...

@shane.k330: For someone who considers my review as relevant as the mystery flavor of Orbitz gum, I must confess that the voracity of your response indicates that you clearly do think my review is relevant.

Had you taken the time to read a few other blog entries as you spent writing up your comment, you would've quickly realized that

1) I have never (either before starting this blog or since) asked for any part of a meal to be comp'd. Ever.

2) As a general rule of thumb, I don't write about national restaurant chains because many, if not all, Americans already have access to them and do nothing to uniquely define the cuisine of a geographic area.

3) Very rarely do I complain when eating out. In undertaking the writing of this blog, I value my role as an observer. In the handful of times I have opted to bring something to the attention of my server or the manager, I not only document the original problem, but also the satisfactory nature of the resolution.

4) I'm fresh out of glue to sniff. May I borrow yours?

NowDining said...

Hey Shane: Is that supposed to be an insult? Do you like Elmer's or SuperGlue or rubber cement?
I think Tom does a great job of reporting on his experiences at our (usually) great NEO restaurants. Almost always some good and some bad, just like this post. The BLT sounds great, but I think I'll wait for a 50% off coupon. But what restaurant would that be for? Not sure. . .

Raechelle said...

I just ate at this restaurant yesterday (for the second time) for dinner. So here are some of my thoughts...I agree with you about the confusion of the restaurant. I've lived in the Valley for a year now, and although I've always been curious about the place, it wasn't until recently that we gave it a try. Nothing about the outside of the restaurant gives you any idea of what it is. I was also very put off by the giant pictures of food on the wall. However, we had a good experience both times. The first time we went we had one of the dinner for two meals, which was 2 strip steaks, 4 scallops and 4 tiger shrimp. I also had the red skin mashed potatoes, which were very good. I actually don't mind the stone concept, and will say that this place is way better then Steak on a Stone. The steaks really are great, and worth the money if you ask me. Yesterday I tried the filet, which was really tender. Both times we've been there, we've gotten free appetizers, desert, etc. It's expensive, but worth a try for sure.

Tino said...

@Raechelle: I really appreciate your feedback, thanks for sharing about your experiences. I'm glad I wasn't the only one confused about the concept until I put 2 and 2 together.

While I'm still in the camp that thinks paying money to cook your own food in a restaurant seems silly to me, I don't doubt that the quality of ingredients they use can lead to some tasty meals. My BLT sandwich and mango slaw certainly went towards proving that.

I'm glad you had a good time,

Sara said...

This review is dead on. I tried this place once and will not return. They rushed us to order then stared at us as we ate. It was unusual and uncomfortable. One of their signs outside says "Turn around you just PAST us." Ugh. When we couldn't get into Mariachi next door to Stonegrill on cinco de mayo, we ate at Sushi Katsu across the street.

Tino said...

@Anonymous: I have changed the policy for commenting on my blog. As such, I have removed your originals comments. Should you decide to repost them under an actual name, I would invite you to do so.

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